Tag Archives: Faith

fear

Hymn #97: Lead, Kindly Light

fear

Like many other Latter-day Saint men, I served as a missionary from the ages of nineteen to twenty-one. I packed my bags, put on a suit, and did my best to teach the gospel to everyone I saw in northern Japan for two years. It was a fantastic experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you haven’t served as a missionary yourself or if you aren’t familiar with the process, then it’s worth understanding that missionaries stay in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah for a bit before they’re sent to their appointed mission. Those being sent to an area with a language they already speak usually only get a couple of weeks; those who don’t (like me) get a little longer so they can get a crash course in the language. But whether you’re there for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the experience is mostly the same for everyone. You see young men and women walking around carrying books, reading scriptures, practicing teaching techniques, and big bright smiles on their faces. And while those smiles are wonderful to look at, if you look just a bit higher, you’ll usually see terrified eyes.

For many young missionaries, this is the first time they’ve been away from home for this long, and it’s certainly the most consequential thing they’ve ever been asked to do. It’s daunting, and it’s downright scary at times. I was ready to pack up and go home after my first night, but I gathered myself and promised that I’d stick it out. Just look at that picture of me at the top. That’s the picture they took of me my first day in Japan, and you can see the fear in my eyes. I suspect I wasn’t the only one that was scared, though. And I suspect that’s true because of how often I heard other missionaries tell me that today’s hymn became their favorite while in the MTC.

This is a hymn about faith in the face of fear. “The night is dark, and I am far from home,” we sing, and for many young missionaries, it was the first time. It’s still true for many of us. Despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves trapped in the dark night, surrounded by the encircling gloom. The world is scary, and the things we are asked to do are daunting. But through the darkness we catch a glimpse of the light, and even if it only lights one step in front of us rather than the “distant scene,” that’s enough. We can take a single step toward the light, trusting that more will be illuminated for us.

The tune of the hymn is a gentle one, and the modest tempo and 3/2 time make it feel like a lullaby. The lyrics are comforting, but so is the music itself. I’m sure that contributed to my humming it while the horrors of life in a foreign country far away from my family and friends bore down on me. It’s soothing and peaceful, and it always calmed me down when I felt especially panicky. It also helped to strengthen my faith when it wasn’t particularly strong. When I wasn’t sure I would be able to carry on, or when I found doubts creeping into my mind about whether or not I was doing the right thing with my life, the lilting refrains of “lead thou me on” gave me strength.

Being a young missionary filled with fear is no different than being a young parent with wide eyes, or stepping into any new phase of life with that look of excitement and terror on your face. Life is scary sometimes. Life is scary a lot of times, but, well, let’s listen to the final verse and see why it’s not so bad, after all:

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

warriors

Hymn #84: Faith of our Fathers

warriors 

Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to thee till death!

The word “fathers” is mentioned three times in this hymn (and once in each chorus), while “God,” “Jesus,” “Lord,” the presumptive objects of our faith, and so on appear a grand total of once (“thru the truth that comes from God mankind shall then be truly free”). It might seem like the hymn is buriyng the lede a little, then. Shouldn’t we focus more on the Lord, who is the author and finisher of our faith, rather than those who taught us to love and follow Him? Aren’t we confusing the message with the messenger?

Perhaps, but for many of us, this is where we get our start. Whether we have the gospel taught to us from birth or later in life, at some point we found ourselves novices to the teachings of the Savior. Someone had to show us the way. That might have been a friend who wanted to share something with us that brought them joy, or a missionary spending years in the service of the Lord, or yes, a parent trying to raise their child in the gospel. We sit at their knee, whether literally or figuratively, learning precious truths line upon line. It’s only natural that in our formative phases, our understanding of the truth of the gospel is less an intrinsic one and more a reliance on our mentor. “I know God lives because my mom told me so,” we might say, and at first, that’s enough.  In time, we will develop our own convictions as we draw nearer to the Savior, and as He draws nearer to us in turn.

There’s nothing wrong with that reliance. Sometimes our faith is shaky, and it’s good for us to have someone else’s faith to fall back on. One of the more famous stories from the Book of Mormon is that of the 2,000 stripling warriors, who, though young, marched into battle secure in the knowledge that the Lord would protect them if they remained true to Him. Listen to Helaman, their prophet and commander, describe their faith:

Now they had never before fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it. (Alma 56:47-48)

These young men surely had their own witness of the Lord, but here they tell us that they were willing to march into battle and face death because of the sureness of the knowledge of their mothers. Their mothers told them that God would protect them if they had faith. I imagine they also taught that even if they were to be taken by death, that was not the end, and that they could be reunited someday, if they would not doubt. And they did not doubt, and the Lord saw them through their war without a single one of them falling in battle.

They did not doubt their mothers knew it, and neither do we. Our mothers know it, as do our fathers, our friends, our missionaries, our church teachers and leaders, and anyone else on whom we rely for a more unshakable witness when ours is not so stable. Our faith is centered in our Lord and Savior, but it is held up by those who helped us to shape and build it. So it’s not that strange that we should sing about the faith of our fathers, nor that we should sing that “in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword… our hearts [will] beat high with joy whene’er we hear that glorious word.” The word is “faith,” but the word is just as much “fathers” that causes our hearts to beat with joy.

Hymn #114: Come unto Him

I wander through the still of night,
When solitude is ev’rywhere–
Alone, beneath the starry light,
And yet I know that God is there.

This hymn starts off (to me at least) with imagery that reminds us of the story of Enos, the Book of Mormon prophet who went into the woods to hunt, recognized that “[his] soul hungered,” and knelt in prayer, looking for his own experience to mirror those of his father, which had sunk deep into his heart. An answer came to him, an audible voice that told him that his sins were forgiven him. He prayed on, engaging in conversation with the Lord. It’s a powerful story, one that teaches us of the importance of deep, meaningful prayer.

I’ve offered prayers like that. My soul has hungered, and I’ve turned to the Lord, hoping to have a significant spiritual experience. And those experiences have come, although not in such a grand or profound way as Enos’ was. Most people don’t see visions, hear voices, or encounter angels as a result of prayer, no matter how meaningful or heartfelt. That doesn’t make our spiritual experiences any less powerful to us, though. “I kneel upon the grass and pray,” we sing in the first verse of this hymn, and we are met with “an answer… without a voice.”

The Holy Ghost touches our hearts as we give them to the Savior. He testifies of the Father and the Son, helping us to remember why it is that we believe in Him and trust Him. We are filled with His love. Our hearts are purified. We don’t need to see an angel to feel that love, nor do we need to engage in an audible conversation with the Lord to have our sins cleansed from us.

“When I am filled with strong desire and ask a boon of him,” we sing in the second verse, “I see no miracle of living fire, but what I ask flows into me.” When we offer our sincere prayers to the Lord, we can feel the promised blessings come into our lives. Those blessings are confirmed to us by the Holy Ghost, which is that “miracle of living fire” we feel, but do not see.  Two other Book of Mormon prophets, the brothers Nephi and Lehi, felt that living fire manifest to themselves powerfully, as did the people they taught. They felt the words of Christ sink deep into their hearts, as did Enos, and their lives were changed for it. Our lives are changed too, when we do the same.

The central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are to come unto Him. We are to give our lives to Him, our hearts, and everything else that makes us who we are. As we do so, we are filled with His love, and we know that the Holy Ghost will testify of that love to us. He will always be there for us. It’s up to us to draw ourselves near to Him. We remind ourselves of that every time we sing this hymn.

Come unto him all ye depressed,
Ye erring souls whose eyes are dim,
Ye weary ones who long for rest.
Come unto him! Come unto him!

Hymn #258: O Thou Rock of Our Salvation

Foot of the Christus Statue

Today’s hymn is “O Thou Rock of Our Salvation.” If the name doesn’t ring a bell, follow that link and listen to a verse—you’ll probably recognize the tune. It was the chorus that triggered my memory:

Gather round the standard bearer;
Gather round in strength of youth.
Ev’ry day the prospect’s fairer
While we’re battling for the truth.

Military imagery is hardly uncommon in hymns. We sing about Christian soldiers and royal armies, ten thousand enlisted legions marching until the conflict is o’er. We even see it in Primary, for “we are as the armies of Helaman.”

It’s curious, though, that military imagery is so common in hymns. Relatively few modern church members will participate in a military battle; why not use a metaphor that will be familiar to more people? Why don’t we sing more about gardening, long journeys through the wilderness, or wrangling disobedient children?

Really, I don’t know the answer. I suspect that wonderful hymns could be made using any of those as a metaphor. And maybe they do exist and I just haven’t heard about them. But what I do know is that military themes aren’t limited to hymns; good portions of both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon cover military operations. Why, then? What are we to learn from these messages of battle?

Perhaps the warfare theme serves to remind us that this is a battle. In the relative comfort that many of us enjoy, it’s easy to become complacent and simply drift along with the flow of society. If our life ever feels like a battle, it’s a battle with cranky children or frustrating co-workers, not a battle for our lives, our families, or our freedom. We may have some rough days, but they rarely have the gravity of a real battle.

We a war ‘gainst sin are waging;
We’re contending for the right.
Ev’ry day the battle’s raging;
Help us, Lord, to win the fight.

When we sing about a war against sin (a “battle raging”), perhaps it’s a reminder that this really is serious business. The war against sin is not just something to be lightly brushed aside—we should constantly be alert and attentive against sin.

What does it really mean, though, to wage war against sin?

Certainly we should resist temptation and avoid sin, but I don’t believe that’s enough. We all have the responsibility to make our homes a safe refuge, a sacred place where the spirit can dwell, whether we are parents, children, or living on our own. The war against sin may also include our neighborhoods and our communities, and even social media. Wherever we are, we have taken a covenant to be a witness of Christ. This is not discarded lightly.

However, this war against sin is not fought like other wars. In the scriptural Armor of God, we find that there is only one weapon used for attacking: the Sword of the Spirit. And what are the fruits of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

As we battle against sin, let us do it with love and joy, gentleness and temperance. We struggle against sin, not against sinners. Indeed, the banner we bear is that of Jesus Christ, he who redeems sinners from their sins. We come with an invitation, not a condemnation. “Come unto Him,” we say. “Learn of him. Partake of his peace.” Christ is the foundation upon whom all must build if they seek peace.

Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

The Lord has assembled a unique army, one bearing not swords but salvation. We battle against sin not so much by striking down evil as by raising up women and men, inviting all to come unto Christ. The antidote to sin is redemption.

Always, always remember Christ. He is the foundation. He is the way. He is the light.

Hymn #26: Joseph Smith’s First Prayer

Sacred Grove

Is there a God?

If so, how can we know about him? Does he care about us enough to communicate with us? Do any churches teach true doctrine? Is there any way we can discover truth about God, if he even exists? How can we know what he wants of us?

Questions like these may have been on the mind of Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820. They are certainly on the minds of many, many people today. The faith of millions rests on their answers. When fourteen-year-old Joseph walked into a grove of trees near his home, he didn’t expect to change the world. He simply had questions, and believed that God would answer them.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

What an answer he received! In response to Joseph’s simple prayer, a light descended from heaven and rested upon Joseph. God the Eternal Father and his son Jesus Christ personally visited Joseph Smith. They answered his questions. He knew, then, that there is a God. He knew that God can and does communicate with us. And he knew that at that time, no true church existed on the earth.

Joseph would eventually receive many other revelations. He would be taught true doctrine and directed to reestablish Christ’s church, with the same divine authority it held anciently. He would translate the Book of Mormon, a second witness of the divinity of Christ alongside the Bible. He would become the first divinely appointed prophet in this era. This vision was the beginning of a marvelous work, a pivotal moment in history.

But none of that had happened yet. After Joseph’s vision, he did not immediately establish a church. He did not yet have knowledge or the authority to do so. He had much yet to learn. After his vision, he just had a few more answers. He wrote this about that time:

I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned—that it was not my duty to join with any of them, but to continue as I was until further directed. I had found the testimony of James to be true—that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided. (Joseph Smith: History v26)

The primary lesson we should earn from Joseph’s first vision is not that all the churches were wrong, or that a Restoration was necessary. These are true, but they’re not the main point. The main point is this:

We can learn truth from God, through revelation.

We do not need to rely on the word of others to vouch for the truth. Yes, we have prophets, priesthood leaders, parents; yes, we have scriptures, seminaries, and sunday school. All of these things can guide us toward truth. But ultimately, our Heavenly Father expects us to come to him with questions. He wants to teach through revelation. He wants to enlarge and clarify our understanding of the things we have been taught. This is true for all people, but especially true for those who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism. If we expect to participate in God’s work, we must learn to receive guidance directly from God if we expect to do his work.

We must learn to receive revelation, just as Joseph did.

Hymn #85: How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?

This is a hymn that gets a lot of play time, and rightfully so. It’s upbeat. It’s uplifting. It’s got a whole bunch of verses so a ward chorister can easily add or subtract them to fill the time as needed.

And since it is so familiar, I’m not sure what new light I can shed on it. Undoubtedly you’ve noticed that most (and arguably all) of the verses were written from the Lord’s point of view. “I am thy God,” we sing in verse three, reminding ourselves exactly who it is we worship and what He has taught us.

And really, “what more can he say than to you he hath said?” Nothing in this hymn is new information. It’s in every book of the scriptural canon, in every General Conference report, in everything we do, for this is His church. He is our foundation.

A good portion of the lyrics here are either paraphrased or almost directly quoted from Isaiah (see chapters 41 and 43), so we get a hint of the Old Testament fire-and-brimstone Jehovah. “Fear not,” He commands His people, “Be not dismayed.” He will call them through deep water, rivers of sorrow, and deepest distress. There will be foes to face and even “all hell [may] endeavor to shake” them.

But, as a counterpoint to all these daunting demands, we are reminded that He is not only a just God who demands sacrifice and strict obedience. He is also a merciful and loving Savior–the Good Shepherd–who will succor, uphold, and sanctify His children. “In ev’ry condition,” He reminds us, “I am with thee…and will still give thee aid.”

Which isn’t to say things won’t be tremendously difficult. When Joseph Smith was confined for months in Liberty Jail with no reprieve in sight,  he begged in prayer to know why God seemed to have forgotten his people in their suffering. The reply, found in section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants, shares the same message of this hymn in its entirety:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7)

He freely admits there will be “fiery trials.” In fact, He knows exactly what they will be for each one of us. But, He instructs us, if we put our trust in Him, “The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design / Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

And that’s really the crux of it all. The last verse tells us with repetitive finality that if we build our lives with Jesus Christ as our foundation, we will never be alone and we will never fall. (see Helaman 5:12)

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Hymn #135: My Redeemer Lives

This hymn is probably best known for two reasons; first, it’s frequently mistaken for much better-known “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (it’s the next hymn in the book, and they even share the same first line), and its lyrics were written by Gordon B. Hinckley.

Like “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” we declare our witness that the Savior lives. We sing about all the wonderful reasons we have to rejoice in His life. He is “victorious over pain and death,” and He paved the way for us to be free from them as well. He is the “one bright hope of men on earth.” It is only through the path He teaches that we can return to Him and become like Him. That path is the “beacon to a better way, the light beyond the veil of death.” We sing joyfully, and there’s a lot to rejoice about.

All of that is wonderful, of course, but how do we know it?

I haven’t seen the Savior in person, and I very much doubt that I ever will during my stay here on earth. I suspect the same from virtually every other person on the planet. There’s speculation that the Twelve have seen Him, since they’re called to be special witnesses of Christ, but that’s all it is, speculation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them haven’t seen Him, either. Seeing Him in the flesh removes our need for faith, the bedrock principle of the gospel. We trust that He lives, and as we place our faith in Him, we are blessed and supported in our lives.

That’s not to say that we’re left to trust blindly that He lives, though. We are given every opportunity to know that He lives, loves us, and is eager to take an active role in our lives if we will but let Him. The third verse of this hymn begins, “Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still,” and therein lies the key. Relatively few of us are given the chance to see the Savior face to face, but all of us have the opportunity to receive the Holy Ghost. The Spirit testifies to us of the Father and the Son. He does so gently and quietly, inviting rather than compelling us to listen. When we hear truth, more often than not the Spirit confirms that truth to us softly, saying (although usually not audibly) something simple like, “Yes, that’s true, and you know it because you remember it, don’t you?”

The Holy Ghost brings all things to our remembrance. He doesn’t teach truth so much as confirm it. When it comes down to it, each of us already knows in some corner of our mind that Jesus is the Christ; after all, we lived with him before we came here, and chose the Father’s plan for our lives, knowing that He would be our Savior and Redeemer. We already know that He lives. We’ve seen Him and known Him. Our minds are covered with the veil that makes faith and obedience meaningful here on earth (there’s no need to have faith in a being you can constantly see before your face), but the Spirit can pull that veil back from time to time, giving us a dazzling glimpse of knowledge we once had.

That powerful feeling manifests itself differently for everyone. For some, it’s a rush of emotion, leading them to tear up. For others, like myself, it’s a powerful flash of insight and clarity. In any case, the word “sweet” is well-chosen to describe those feelings. The Spirit touches our hearts and helps to reconcile us to God. We can know that He lives, and that He loves us. And as we receive that sweet witness, reminding us of truths laying dormant in our hearts, we receive courage to carry on. We receive, as we sing in the conclusion of this hymn, “the faith to walk the lonely road that leads to thine eternity.”

Hymn #136: I Know That My Redeemer Lives

 

He lives, he lives, who once was dead.

This statement is, perhaps, the very foundation of Christianity. Jesus Christ, crucified between thieves and buried in a tomb, lives. None other ever had power to rise from death of his own accord. The resurrection stands as a testament to the divinity of Christ.

More than simply a witness of Christ, though, his Resurrection offers us hope. Because he lives, we will live again. More, because he lives he continues to bless us. Christ is not simply a great prophet who lived and died—he lives. He continues to act. Though his greatest work is complete in the Atonement, his mission is not yet complete because we are not yet complete.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives speaks directly of our relationship with Christ. He is not simply an unknowable force for good working in the background. Rather, he is our “kind, wise heavenly friend.” He comforts us when faint. He blesses us in time of need. He silences all our fears and calms our troubled hearts.  Christ is our guide and our companion.

Over the course of four verses, this hymn expresses four verses full of blessings we receive because He Lives. Four verses full of reasons to rejoice. This outpouring of simple gratitude makes this one of my favorite hymns.

I often quietly sing this hymn to myself, when I find myself alone. I did so just a few nights ago, on my back porch late at night while everyone else was asleep. Gazing up into the starry night and singing quietly, I watched as the Earth’s shadow passed over the moon, producing a beautiful lunar eclipse. I thought about the greatness of God, about the vastness of the Earth, the moon, and the Sun which he created. I thought about how amazing that the same being who was instrumental in creating such a beautiful scene also ”pleads for me above,” seeking to prepare a mansion for me there. I reflected on my own relationship with Christ—my own faith and willingness to follow him.

Perhaps on such occasions, I am not truly singing to myself. I am not singing to entertain, nor to pass the time. Rather, I sing to express my gratitude to our Father for his Son. I sing to orient my soul to Him.  When I sing this song, I sing to God himself, offering gratitude and awe for the resurrection and atonement of Christ. I sing to offer testimony. Scripture teaches that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God;” when I sing I Know That My Redeemer Lives, that prayer seems to draw me in.

He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Knowledge that Christ lives brings joy. When we sing this hymn, we express four verses full of reasons for that joy, but there are many, many more. Our relationship with Christ is personal, is intended to be personal. As we grow to know him, we will find more and more reasons to rejoice in his life.

So, as we conclude the Easter season, take a moment and read this hymn. Consider your own relationship with Christ. If you were to add a verse, what would it say? When you reflect upon his atonement and his resurrection, what thoughts bring you joy?

Hymn #17: Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake!

Awake, we’re told over and over in this hymn. We’re told twice in the title alone, and the tune, as with most hymns about Zion, is upbeat and powerful. We sing vigorously, an attitude about as far from sleep as possible. And yet it’s clear all of us (those of us singing, anyway), are quite literally awake. So why are we urging ourselves and other saints to awake?

What does it mean to be asleep?

Sleep is associated with refreshment and rejuvenation, certainly, but it’s also tied to fatigue and exhaustion. We sleep when we’re tired, and while we sleep, we’re usually completely unaware of the world around us. When we sleep, we dream, a word often associated with hopes and striving, but it can also represent unattainable ideas and goals, or even a state out of touch with reality.

In this hymn, sleep represents captivity and an inability to progress. The first verse urges us to “call on the Lord in mighty prayer that he will Zion’s bondage break.” There are times the saints of God have been in literal bondage; the children of Israel in Egypt immediately come to mind, but the people of Alma, held captive by the Amulonites in the Book of Mosiah qualify, too. They cried to their God that He would release them from their bondage, and He heard them and set them free.

In both cases, the promised deliverance only came after the people took action. It wasn’t enough for them to wish they were free; they had to exercise faith and ask God for His aid. Idle wishing for an escape from our trials is like, well, daydreaming. We may as well be asleep for all the good it does us. Instead, we call each other to action. We remind each other that while we rely on the Lord for all that we have, His blessing to us are conditional on our asking for them. We exercise faith through our actions, and the promised blessings come as we do so.

It’s right there in the fourth verse: Awake to righteousness; be one. We take action, we follow the principles we have been taught, and as we do so, we unite ourselves with others who do so. And if we do not – if we decide to blaze our own trial and stick to our own teachings rather than those revealed truths – the Lord says to us, “ye are not mine.” He will have a united and true people. He has given us the tools and teachings to do so, and has promised that we will find power in so doing. Our faith strengthens us, of course, but we draw power from the Father and the Son, who build us up and make us able to accomplish tasks beyond our own power.

We are reminded in the second verse that the “God of Jacob does not sleep.” He may not, in a literal sense (I won’t pretend to know), but in a symbolic sense, meaning that His attention is distracted from us, He assuredly does not. We are His work and His glory, and we are continually before Him. He dedicates His whole self and work to helping us to achieve what He has, perfection and eternal glory. He does that through calling us to action. Our action is essential to our progression; after all, we can’t hope to achieve anything by sitting around waiting for it to happen. So we are urged to awake, arise out of our too-deep sleep, rubbing our eyes and shaking off the last vestiges of dreams that call us back to bed. We get up, we remember our purpose here, and we move to action, helping others in their path along the way.

In short, we awake, we saints of God.

Hymn #105: Master, the Tempest Is Raging

The Grace Harwar sailing in a storm

For anyone who has read New Testament this story is a familiar one, included in two of the four gospels, and it begins in a boat.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? (Mark 4:37-38)

They lyrics of the first verse are, appropriately, written from the disciples’ point of view. They are afraid they will capsize and drown, and feel shocked–perhaps even a little betrayed–that Jesus can sleep through it all. Their indignation is understandable; they are, after all, in a boat with the only perfect man who ever lived, a man whose miracles extend even to raising the dead. Why would nature behave this way toward disciples of the Son of God? Shouldn’t their boat be protected from such deadly storms because he is in it?

Unfortunately, being a disciple of Christ doesn’t make one immune to the tempests of life. The most devout Christians and devoted Saints have been tested and tried to their very limits. Mosiah and Alma had apostate children who attempted to destroy the church. Hannah and Elisabeth and Rachel and many others faced long years of infertility. So many pioneers buried family members on their trek to Zion. Storms happen, and sometimes we get caught in their wake.

The tempests we face may be literal forces of nature, results of our own choices, or the consequences of someone else’s actions that are beyond our control. When they arise, we generally find ourselves pleading for our Lord to take notice of the storm and rescue us from it.

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today.
The depths of my sad heart are troubled.
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul,
And I perish! I perish! dear Master.
Oh, hasten and take control!

Whether our sinking soul is due to the guilt of sin or the heartbreak of loss, the frustration of helplessness or just the general stress of life, sometimes we truly feel like we are perishing. Hope is lost, and there is nothing to do but lay down and die.

And yet.

We are protected when the Savior is in our midst. Maybe we aren’t spared from being tossed about by the waves, but let’s not forget the wise man who built his house on the rock. The rains came down on his house just as they did on the house built on sand, but his house was not washed away.

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the arock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

If we center our lives on Jesus Christ, he will be with us to lift and guide and sustain us in our most trying times. Remember, as the chorus says:

Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea
Or demons or men or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies.

Our God will not let us fail if we put our trust in him. We might be as Job and lose every single thing we have in this life, but still he gives us hope of eternal peace and joy in the life to come.

And so, when “the terror is over” and “the elements sweetly rest”, we should not (to continue the metaphor) kick Jesus out of our boat because we don’t need him to protect us anymore. Let our prayer be, as in the third verse, that we will live our lives in such a way that his Spirit will remain with us until we live with him again:

Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more,
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor
And rest on the blissful shore.

 

Image credit: “The ‘Grace Harwar’ sailing in a storm,” Flickr user National Maritime Museum, 1929, via Flickr. CC-NY-NC-ND 2.0

Sunlight and Dogwoods

Hymn #89: The Lord Is My Light

Sunlight and Dogwoods

 

I used to think this was a song of joy. The tune is happy and lilting, we sing about light, and the chorus explicitly refers to the Lord as “[our] joy and [our] song.” So why, then, when we review the topics listed for this hymn, do we not find “joy”?

A quick look at the first verse can illuminate the situation for us. Listen:

The Lord is my light; then why should I fear?
By day and by night his presence is near.
He is my salvation from sorrow and sin;
This blessed assurance the Spirit doth bring.

The chorus is about joy and light, but the verses are all about faith and trust. We sing about assurance, and we sing about power. We are directed to sing not “joyfully,” not ” brightly,” but “resolutely.” We are filled with faith and knowledge that even when the Lord isn’t visibly near is, we can feel Him near and draw strength from that.

It’s one thing to believe in God when it’s easy to do so. On days where your life is easy, sunshine is streaming in, and you aren’t encountering any challenges to your faith, it’s a snap to remember to pray always and keep Him in your heart. But on days where you’re feeling tested, whether spiritually, emotionally, or physically, it’s much harder, and sometimes, singing or thinking about light and joy doesn’t cut it for you.

The second verse asks us what we do on those days when the sunlight seems blocked from our view:

The Lord is my light, tho clouds may arise,
Faith, stronger than sight, looks up thru the skies
Where Jesus forever in glory doth reign.
Then how can I ever in darkness remain?

We’ve all had days where, in despair, grief, or whatever else, we look to the heavens for comfort. And on some of those days, we look up expecting rays of sunshine, but see only dark clouds. What do we do when no comfort seems to be forthcoming? This hymn reminds us not to look with our eyes, but with our faith, “stronger than sight.” The eye of faith cuts through those clouds and lets us see the Lord where He is.

Faith is, as we know, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We can’t see the Savior standing next to us, especially not with life’s stormy clouds blocking our view. Faith provides substance to things things we hope for. When we exercise our faith, we can see the Lord as though He’s standing right there. His light, which fuels our faith, penetrates through those clouds and allows us to see. As real and crushing as our trials can feel, when we have faith to buoy us up, we too can ask how we could ever remain in darkness.

That’s not to say that exercising our faith is a walk in the park. The third verse gives us a sense of the timeframe we’re looking at:

The Lord is my light; the Lord is my strength.
I know in his might I’ll conquer at length.
My weakness in mercy he covers with pow’r,
And, walking by faith, I am blest ev’ry hour.

As he gives us the ability to overcome our trials through our faith in Him, we can come off conqueror–but notice the words “at length.” We are not always delivered immediately. We often aren’t delivered until we’ve had to endure those trials for some time. We’re given the chance to learn patience and longsuffering through our trials, and also to learn gratitude as those trials are removed from us after we’ve learned patience. But don’t think that the Lord simply allows us to suffer, only finally choosing to intervene after an arbitrary number of days, weeks, or years. His power can (and does) compensate for our weakness. When we rely on Him through our faith, we are, as we sing here, “blest ev’ry hour.” We don’t have occasional moments of deliverance sprinkled through the gloom. The rays of sunshine are always there. It’s only when we walk in faith that we can see them piercing the cloud cover.

The Lord is my light, my all and in all.
There is in his sight no darkness at all.
He is my Redeemer, my Savior, and King.
With Saints and with angels his praises I’ll sing.

“There is in his sight no darkness at all.” He is the rays of light that reach us through the clouds. He will unceasingly brighten our lives and give us hope. And when we walk in faith, we are always entitled to see those rays of light. The clouds are dark, and they may feel overwhelming at times, but faith helps us to see that there’s more to the world than those clouds.

Image credit: “Sunshine and Dogwoods,” Duane Tate, 2005, via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hymn #3: Now Let Us Rejoice

Now Let Us Rejoice was included in the original LDS hymnbook, only five years after the church was organized. It was a time of great excitement within the church; significant new doctrines were being revealed frequently, and many had great spiritual manifestations. If you were a member of the Church at that time, you likely had a fairly strong belief that God was actively working in the world, and that revelation, visions, miracles, and so forth were not just things out of scripture. These were things happening last week, and happening now, and happening again soon.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost some of that faith today. It may seem easier to just focus on the things that affect us today, and let the future take care of itself. There are many wonderful things we teach and preach and discuss, of course—things that can help us become better people and draw closer to Christ. These are all very appropriate to discuss, and important for our salvation. We talk about how Christ’s Atonement can bring peace and healing to us now. We talk about service to others, and how we should strive to become Christ-like people. These are wonderful topics, and I’m glad we discuss them often. These are the things that will change us into the people God wants us to become. They will lighten our burdens and enrich our lives, and those are things we all need.

I wonder, though, if we get so caught up in the potter’s wheel or the refiner’s fire that we forget to have hope in the promises God has made. We are living in the long-prophesied last days before Christ’s return! His millennial reign, full of peace and happiness and glory, is close at hand! Shouldn’t that get us at least a little bit excited?

This hymn is excited about the millennium, and has no qualms about it. Here’s the chorus of the first two verses:

Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And none will molest them from morn until ev’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Jesus will say to all Israel, “Come home.”

Considering the persecution that early church members endured, the notion that “none will molest them” must have seemed pretty nice. We generally don’t face the same opposition they did, but it’s still not always easy to stand for faith and revealed truth in a world that has largely abandoned both.  Further, the millennium will be a time when “Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and the Earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (Article of Faith 10)  How could we not be excited for that?

And yet, sometimes it seems so distant. It’s easy to believe that God has acted in the past, and that he will probably act sometime in the future, but it’s sometimes hard to believe that it could actually happen now, during our own lives. I don’t know if Christ’s second coming will be in my lifetime. I hope that it is—I look forward to it. But whether it is or not, I have hope in these and all the other blessings promised in the revelations. God has exciting things planned for the Saints, and it is appropriate to anticipate them and to be excited about them. The third verse has a different chorus, one that applies not just to those who live to see the millennium, but to every one who will accept the covenants God offers us:

Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And they will be crown’d with the angels of heav’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Christ and his people will ever be one.

Let’s keep hope in the promised blessings. When life is hard, let’s rely with faith on the arm of Jehovah, and trust that the end will be glorious. Whether in the millennium or after this life, there is a wonderful world in store for us. Now let us rejoice!

Hymn #134: I Believe in Christ

If ever there was a hymn written to confirm that Mormons are indeed Christians, it’s this one. Just as the Articles of Faith lay out the basics of Latter-Day Saint doctrine, this hymn explains in fairly simple terms what we believe about Jesus Christ.

It’s like a manifesto of our Christianity.

Eight times we sing, “I believe in Christ,” then follow each affirmation with what precisely we believe about him.

“He is God’s Son.” Literally. Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father. As such, he inherited traits from his Immortal Father that enabled him to perform miracles, to suffer the Atonement, and to be resurrected after his crucifixion.

“As Mary’s Son he came to reign.” He was born to a mortal mother in humble circumstances. The traits he inherited from her–the ability to experience pain, sickness, and ultimately death–were also necessary for him to fulfill his mission on earth.

“He healed the sick; the dead he raised.” He spent his ministry in service to others: relieving suffering, showing mercy, healing the broken-hearted, bringing hope to those who had none. He called upon the power of God and gave people a chance to exercise faith they didn’t know they had.

He “marked the path.” By his example–not just his teachings but also his actions– we know what we need to do to obtain eternal life: love God, love others, keep the commandments, and endure to the end.

“He is the source of truth and light.” The Savior himself said it better than I can: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Furthermore, he told the Brother of Jared, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. … I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.” (Ether 4:12)

“He ransoms me.”  By paying the price demanded by justice and offering mercy to the sinner, he defeated both death and hell. That Atonement makes it possible for us to gain eternal life and exaltation. Put in terms a Christian of any denomination would recognize: it is by his grace that we are saved.

“He is my King! … My Lord, My God … He stands supreme.” It isn’t called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for nothing. He stands at its head and we acknowledge him as our divine King.

“He [will come] again to rule among the sons of men.” He lived, he died, he lived again, and he will return to earth in all his glory, might, and majesty. We look forward not with fear but with hope for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is the Lord God. (see Philippians 2:10-11 and Mosiah 27:31)

Say what you will about any other point of LDS doctrine, we believe in Christ.

Hymn #285: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

I’ve never really appreciated this phrase. It often suggests to me something I don’t love: specifically, a too-general way to explain things we don’t understand. In philosophy we might call that sort of thing an appeal to the unknown. In layman’s terms, we might call it a cop-out, employed by benign but removed well-wishers at a time of tragedy or pain. You know the kind I mean. The senseless death of an innocent, or many innocents. Natural disaster. The sorts of events which by which we can be either razed or raised. But when I read or listen to “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”, it seems to me that sorrows, fears, and doubts are both acknowledged and addressed.

The song was written by William Cowper (England, 1731-1800). A very non-mysterious web search identifies him as a talented but tortured lawyer-turned-poet. His intermittent battles with depression took him from an asylum for the mentally ill to the very edge of unsuccessful suicide a number of times. In said asylum, it is said, he happened upon a Bible and accordingly his conversion. He became a good friend of John Newton, most famous for penning “Amazing Grace”. At Newton’s encouragement he started writing hymns, and the pair collaborated on a songbook for their congregation, which included the song that would become part of our LDS hymnal by 1919. (Interestingly, you’ll note that in our hymnal we use a melody penned by William Bradbury, who was born sixteen years after Cowper’s death- there are six or seven melodies to which this song has been known to be sung.)

I love how the lyrics communicate both his faith and the wounds it helped to heal. The imagery of a storm and clouds, the sensory appeal of bitterness, and the emotional appeal of dread- these things he counters pound for pound with references to Christ’s walking upon the sea, to blessings, and eventual understanding. Like Alma, Cowper uses the analogy of a seed. Alma’s seed is planted by one who exercises faith to plant. The worth of Cowper’s seed is not realized until the plant has been allowed to fully bloom.

We see so little of God’s plan from our little world, the hazy underside of heaven. Cowper’s hymn asks us to view this fact from the higher perspective, and take comfort in the knowledge that the Lord is the epitomic Artist, whose designs are without error or end. His ways are mysterious only to us, and He is kind- whatever sorrows or circumstances we face, He can heal and He can help. All we need to do is trust Him.

If you, like me, were not well-acquainted with this hymn, here is a lovely contemporary version:

800px-Spring_Shelter,_Pokagon_Park

Hymn #31: O God, Our Help in Ages Past

800px-Spring_Shelter,_Pokagon_Park

We hear a lot about the goodness, grace, and mercy of the Lord from the hymns. We sing about His kindness, and we rejoice in His endless love. The hymns are, after all, hymns of praise, or else what are we doing singing them? But for whatever reason, I don’t feel as much that the hymns emphasize the strength and stability of the Lord. Oh, we have those hymns, certainly (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” comes to mind, as well as almost any hymn that mentions the word “mountain”), but I imagine for every mention of the word “strong” in the hymns, you hear words like “good” and “joy” many times over.

This is a strong hymn. We are directed to sing “with dignity,” befitting the resolute strength and majesty of the Lord we sing about. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Isaac Watts wrote these lyrics in the 1700s. This was a time when God was not a figure to be loved so much as revered and feared. He inspired awe, not joy. That’s not to say that those gentler aspects weren’t understood, but they weren’t emphasized. The period was much more Johann Sebastian Bach than Janice Kapp Perry.

The Lord is strong and unmoving. When all other things are changing and unsteady, we can always depend on the Lord to be reliable. And so we begin our hymn by singing about His unchanging nature. He is our help in ages past as well as our hope for years to come. He has ever been there for us. He ever will be. It is never He who departs from us. He is always there, protecting and defending us, so long as we allow Him to.

This is how it’s always been, says verse three:

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

And so it ever will be. He is our shelter and our home. He is four walls and a roof that will never shake or crumble. The image is a vivid one, and maybe especially now that it’s winter. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but where I am, it’s cold and windy. The rain is hitting the windows hard enough that it sounds like sand. The walls creak and groan under the gusts of wind, but they never give. Of course, they might, but then again, mine isn’t the house we’re talking about. If your house is the Lord, then you can be sure that it won’t collapse, no matter how strong the stormy blast. We can count on Him, and always count on Him, no matter what we’re up against. In the second verse, we sing that “sufficient is [His] arm alone, and our defense is sure.” If God is for us, who can be against us?

And as if several paragraphs of me making the same point over and over again wasn’t enough to convince you that the theme of this hymn is “unchanging,” we arrive at the fourth and final verse, which is nearly identical to the first:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home
.

The first and fourth verses almost serve as a chorus. In the verses, we get specifics, but in the chorus, we return to the general theme of the song, echoing the constancy of the Lord. And it’s fitting that in a hymn about constancy, the hymn itself is bookended with the same message. God always was our hope. He always will be. He is our refuge, and He will never fail us. He is our home.